Today, the dawn of the technological age has allowed us to not only study them but make contact with these creatures in non-lethal methods. The creation of engine-powered boats and ships has made it possible to track down and follow dolphins’ life cycles to understand them better.
In this article, we will focus solely on the dolphin’s unique capability of echolocation and its technological applications.
Dolphin Facts: What is Echolocation?
There are very few mammals who possess extraordinary skills like dolphins but knowing the process behind their survival will enable us to fully appreciate the practical aspect of creating technology based on their exceptional capabilities. Check out these dolphin facts to know more about these awesome creatures.
Dolphins mainly use this ability to communicate with other delphinids and the environment around them through a series of clicks and whistles that are meant to bounce back from whatever they come in contact with. This is especially useful as they do prioritize the use of sound rather than sight.
The natural process behind echolocation is simple: A sound is produced and sent out into the environment, then the time it takes for the echo to come back is calculated to measure the distance between the source and the objects around it. Dolphins aren’t the only animals to have this ability, Bats also have them, but no animal makes effective use of echolocation like dolphins.
How Is Echolocation Done?
Dolphins have a very intricate living sonar system built into their bodies that allow them to use echolocation. There are thick lipids in their heads that are sometimes called “acoustic fat” that focus on sound and environmental audio cues. Ultrasonic noises made from their mouths reverberate through their skull into the fat and exit through the front of their heads.
The dolphins are arguably smarter than humans if we consider that they have four lobes in their brains’ two hemispheres, while humans only have three. Human senses are split evenly between lobes, while dolphins have them all in that fourth lobe, which can mean that dolphin cognition and mental reaction times are faster than humans.
Why Does It Matter?
The human applications of echolocation are close to innumerable amounts as the study and research of dolphins have proved that it is possible to replicate its effects and use it in different ways beneficial to society. Medicine, Military, Science, Marine Biology, and even exploration of the final frontiers in space are fields that echolocation is applicable.
Let us talk more about the different inventions of humankind that came from the study of dolphins and why they are so revolutionary that progress would have been much slower for our species without them. A combination of historic and modern technology systems will be discussed further below.
Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS)
SOSUS was initially made by American engineers to track Soviet submarines and was developed in 1949 when the US Navy felt the need to approach their committees regarding undersea warfare. Countless systems were placed around the world, and it can be said that SOSUS was one of the progenitors of modern-day defense systems of the US.
The SOSUS systems consisted of multiple arrays of ocean-floor mounted hydrophones connected to cables that lead to facilities (NAVFAC) on the shore. Singular arrays were strategically placed on continental slopes and underwater locations proven to have undistorted long-range acoustic propagation.
Radio Direction and Ranging (RADAR)
It has been several decades since the British engineers revolutionized echolocation theory and created the first iterations of RADAR. The RADAR invention was also believed to be one reason why the tides turned in favor of the Royal Air Force during the skirmishes with the Nazi Bombers during the war.
RADAR systems are detection systems, much like the living echolocation systems inside dolphins’ heads that use radio waves in place of sound waves to determine the distance, angle, and measurements of objects. The back and forth of radio waves and external objects work the same way that sounds bounce off of animals and geographical elements in the sea for dolphins.
The system has a transmitter for electromagnetic pulses coming from inside the radio or frequency of microwaves, a transmitting and receiving antenna, a receiver, and a processor to calculate the objects’ attributes it detects.
Lidar is a technological innovation of remote sensing technology using laser lights to get a complex sample of an object’s surface. This new technology is currently being used to discover previously hidden layers of the Earth by archaeologists.
Lidar systems are very portable as they can be placed on helicopters or planes that fly over target locations worldwide. The system works by beaming millions of lasers to the ground in intervals of four seconds, and their wavelengths are accurately measured as they emanate back. Those extremely accurate measurements are then used to produce a 3D image of the topography.
The lasers used in Lidar systems are described as pulses of light outside the visible spectrum of humans. The pulses sweep around in a circular motion, much like radar but are significantly more complicated in the post-processing methods that come after a cycle.
Lidar technology has helped scientists uncover thousands of undiscovered topographical layers that were previously thought to be impossible for research as it would have taken decades with manual labor. The only disadvantage of Lidar technology is that at the moment, it is costly to produce them, and there is no workaround to save expenses.
In A Nutshell
Dolphins have always struck humans with awe and wonder since the written literary works of Aristotle in 384-322 BC describing their interactions towards us. Our fascination towards these majestic mammals only grew as time went by, and some of their earliest visual representations date as far back as 1500 BC.
The evolution of our study and research of dolphins has come a long way, and with an insatiable hunger for knowledge, there can only be more innovations to come in the future. The only way to make sure that society acknowledges their inspiration is to take care of their species and ensure their survival for the years to come.
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